Some toddlers form attachments to special blankets or stuffed animals. For my son, it was an old Hot Wheels tow truck. Now 8 years old, he’s grown out of bringing die-cast cars to bed with him, but his love of vehicles, physics and engineering endures. When I learned of the Family STEM Days, happening every third Saturday at LeMay America’s Car Museum, I knew he’d be on board. My animal-loving daughter, however, might be a tougher sell. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, ‘cause they both had a blast.
For the uninitiated, LeMay America’s Car Museum is the sleek, shiny building next to the Tacoma Dome. It’s a beautiful space – the main entrance level has high, curved ceilings bedecked in wood, with a terrific view of Tacoma. The four levels of cars and other interactive displays are arranged in what looks like the fanciest parking garage you’ve ever seen.
The Family STEM Day took place on the bottom level, in the Family Zone (more on this later). Each month features a different science, technology, engineering and math activity with a community partner. We were there for a hands-on Lego Mindstorms experience with kid volunteers and an adult mentor from Gig Harbor Academy. Helping my daughter was third-grader Stella; fifth-grader Kodi helped my son. They demonstrated how to program a wheeled base which could be customized with Lego pieces to perform different tasks. A special arena on the floor was the proving ground – would the commands you gave your robot create the results you wanted?
I’m not going to lie – as Kodi blazed through a tutorial of all the ways you could program the robot, I was having trouble keeping up. My kids, who are in kindergarten and second grade, found it interesting for sure, and we all thought it was great that enthusiastic kids were the ones showing them how it works. Lego Mindstorms is typically for kids in the third grade on up, so some of it was over the heads of my kids, too. But I’m thankful for the seed that was planted, that kids-can-do-anything spirit inherent in programs like Family STEM Days. Plus, pretty much everything you see in the museum exists thanks to science, technology, engineering and math, and it’s nice to remind kids of the many ways STEM is present in our daily lives.
Once you’re done officially STEMming it up, there’s still plenty to do. In the nearby Family Zone, a large, hilly track lets kids race customizable pinewood derby cars four at a time, and a display shows whose was the winner. There’s also an interactive old-fashioned car for climbing on, static wooden tracks where young kids can maneuver small cars, and an art area with stencils and other car-design tools. Continuing on in the museum you’ll find an elaborate slot car track, racing simulators, and plenty of beautifully restored cars to ogle.
Family STEM Day included with admission, which is $16 adults, $14 seniors and military, $12 students, $8 ages 6 to 12, and free ages 5 and younger. Racing simulator $8, slot car racing $3, parking $5 to $10.
LeMay America’s Car Museum
2702 E. D St.
Tacoma, WA 98421